Written by Chad Derdowski
When an optimistic teen girl stumbles upon a doorway to a fantastic world of science and invention, she finds herself embarking on a journey toward a better tomorrow. Aided by a cynical, former boy genius and a mysterious young girl, Casey Newton sets forth to uncover the secrets of Tomorrowland and the explanation for its disappearance.
If I was writing copy for the back of the Blu-ray, that’s what I’d say about Tomorrowland. It’s concise and accurate, without giving away anything about the film. But of course, a movie is so much more than a blurb on the back of the package and a brief description meant to sell the film can’t really get into the how’s and why’s of our society’s obsession with negativity and the seeming disappearance of anything resembling a positive attitude in today’s world. That sense of optimism that was so prevalent in previous generations has been replaced with cynicism and the bright, shining tomorrow we used to dream about has been traded in for a seemingly unavoidable post-apocalyptic nightmare.
And perhaps deservedly so, given the state of the world. Hey, it’s a pretty crappy place to live, isn’t it? So crappy that it seems like even the thought of something better than a dystopian future comes with an asterisk and a disclaimer. But what if someone tried to recapture that sense of optimism we used to see in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek or Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of Superman? What if someone tried to inspire you to actually do something rather than just hang your head and fire off an angry post on Facebook? And what if that someone was George Clooney? You’d listen to George Clooney, wouldn’t you?!?
But that’s way too long to put on the back of the Blu-ray. And George Clooney isn’t really all that inspiring in this movie; in fact, he’s the cynical, former boy genius I was talking about earlier. But he’s still George Clooney, he’s still charming as hell and when that teenage girl (Britt Robertson, who is actually like, 25 even though she plays a totally convincing 16-year-old) shows up to remind him that he used to be a bright-eyed kid just like her who dreamed of fantastic worlds of wonder and adventure, you can’t help but feel pretty inspired yourself.
And if they had put all that on the back of the Blu-ray, you might be compelled to overlook the negative reviews Tomorrowland got when it arrived in theaters earlier this year and give it a shot. Because you really should give it a shot, even though a lot of those negative reviews are actually deserved. Despite its flaws, Tomorrowland actually is a pretty inspiring flick that I wanted to like a lot more than I did; one that does leave you with a sense of wonder and awe and a desire to make the world a little better.
Here’s the long and short of it: Tomorrowland starts out strong – really strong. After a brief introduction and flashback sequence which gives us just a taste of the fantastic world of the future our parents thought we’d live in, the film delivers on the action-packed thrill ride the actual blurb on the back of the Blu-ray promises for about an hour, and just when it seems that we’re approaching an adventure of Spielbergian proportions, it all just sort of goes off the rails.
Maybe “off the rails” isn’t quite accurate. The film makes sense and doesn’t lose focus as it goes on; it just loses steam. And it’s not a gradual loss of steam, it’s like the Little Engine That Could, chugging along and gaining momentum as it goes. I think I can, I think I can – it’s building – I think I can, I think I can, I think I can – faster and faster as it goes along – I think I can, I think I can–come to a complete stop.
And again, it slowly builds up a little speed. But it’s a train at a dead stop, so it takes a little while, but it does start moving again and at a pretty good clip. The wind is in your hair and the trees on the side of the tracks are becoming a blur as the train chugs along–to an abrupt stop.
I’ll stop with the lousy train metaphors now. I’m sure you get the point and you may even have whiplash. But this is the main flaw of Tomorrowland – pacing. And you know what? I’m not telling you this because I don’t like the movie or because I don’t want you to see it. I liked the movie! I’m telling you all of this because I’m warning you to be prepared for these pacing issues because I don’t want you to walk into this with super-high expectations and be disappointed. I want you to watch Tomorrowland because despite my issues with it, the film still does its job. It entertains and inspires.
There’s more than enough good will and good intention driving Tomorrowland that I still consider it a success and would definitely recommend it. It’s got an engaging and incredibly likable cast and special effects that are an absolute feast for the eyeballs. It’s got old-timey rockets and jetpacks and ray guns and holograms and all the stuff we loved as kids, before we grew up and fell in love with zombies and road warriors and superheroes who complain about everything. It’s got moxie and it’s got heart and it’s got this stop-and-go patch that damn near ruins the whole thing but just can’t because the rest of the movie is just so much fun. Tomorrowland is uneven, but it’s also underrated.
And there you have it. I dug it. I’m aware of the flaws and I’ll complain about them until the cows come home. But I still dug it. But like the protagonists of this film, I’m probably just too optimistic.
The Blu-ray comes with a bevy of extras including the prerequisite behind-the-scenes stuff, scoring sessions, and stories from the cast, crew and production folks, and deleted scenes. I watched most of it and it’s worth your time, especially the animated “Origins of Plus Ultra”, which is a faux-retro advertisement explaining the secret origins of the secret organization behind Tomorrowland. It’s super cool and a lot of fun.
In closing, I will leave you with a quote from writer/director and seemingly all-around nice guy Brad Bird regarding the influence of society’s mindset on the film’s theme that I took from Wikipedia.
“When [Damon and I] were little, people had a very positive idea about the future, even though there were bad things going on in the world,” Bird said. “Even the 1964 World’s Fair happened during the Cold War. But there was a sense we could overcome them. And yet now we act like we’re passengers on a bus with no say in where it’s going, with no realization that we collectively write the future every day and can make it so much better than it otherwise would be.”
So there you go.